Cranford hires fourth admin. in two years

CRANFORD – After several years of uncertainty preventing Cranford from bringing aboard a permanent administrator, Tuesday night the township appointed someone they are confident can fill the slot.

Terrence Wall, the former borough administrator, municipal clerk and purchasing agent for North Arlington in Bergen County since 2007, officially assumes the role Saturday but will be gleaning what he can from outgoing administrator Joe Hartnett before he departs tomorrow.

According to Mayor Tom Hannen, Wall, a resident of Homdel, made the cut from a field of 28 applicants who responded to an ad the township put on the New Jersey League of Municipalities website in September. Hannen said after interviewing many potential candidates for the position, Wall was best suited for the role.

“I think he brings a lot of energy, experience, commitment and willingness to get the job done,” the mayor said Tuesday in an interview with LocalSource, adding he is looking forward to working with the new administrator, who has a masters degree in public administration.

Wall’s experience involves two municipalities that are not only smaller than Cranford but have different forms of government.

North Arlington, with a population of 15,533, is a borough form of government with an elected mayor while Keansburg, where Wall previously held the position of borough manager and acting chief financial officer from 2005 to 2007, is also a borough form of government with a population of 10,105.

Cranford, on the other hand, has a population of 22,625 and a township committee form of government. The mayor is not elected but rather selected by the political party who has the majority on the governing body. That means the potential every year for control to shift from Democrat or Republican and a new governing body honorary mayor or chairman of the committee is always at risk.

It has been a long and winding road towards finding the right fit for the township administrator position. Especially after Harnett, only in the position since January, abruptly announced at the end of August he was resigning.

Although one governing body member alluded that Hartnett was unhappy with the fact the governing body was stonewalling his efforts to bring the township back to where it needed to be, there were multiple reasons surrounding his departure.
However, the resignation left township officials and employees reeling. Many department heads and employees spoke openly about their disappointment with Hartnett’s resignation, noting he had 45 years of experience and it was the first “sense of stability” the municipality had since the fall of 2011.

In 2011, immediately following Tropical Storm Irene, former administrator Marlena Schmid was put on administrative leave after more than a decade of unstable and controversial leadership. By the end of the year she was asked to leave and it appeared things would get on an even keel.

Police Chief Eric Mason immediately assumed the duel role of interim administrator and police chief, and after just a few months it appeared he would be retiring as police chief to assume the administrator’s position full time.
However, other issues threatened his Jan. 1, 2013 appointment, leading to continued instability and questions regarding leadership.
Mason was concerned he might not be able to receive a police department pension while also immediately moving into the position of administrator in the same municipality and receiving a $150,000-plus salary.

The police chief wanted assurances, in writing, from the state that he would be able to collect both his pension and administrators salary but when that failed to materialize, he said he did not want the job. This threw a wrench in the township moving forward but by January officials had rebounded, bringing in Hartnett as interim administrator, making it official in April.

This week municipal employees were hesitant to speak about a new administrator coming aboard and wary of what lies ahead. Department heads refused to comment, while employees preferred waiting to see how things unfold.